A lot of athletes have been asking me lately how much time they should take off after their big race. This isn’t an easy question to answer and differs among runners based on many factors. Many of you have probably heard of the rule that you should take a day off for every mile you ran in the race. But that would mean taking nearly a month off after a marathon. While that is definitely okay to do if you really need a break, for most of us we would probably lose our minds.
The first factor that determines the amount of time you should take off is how far you actually raced. If you ran a 5K you can take a day off or you might be able to just jump right back into another training cycle. If you ran a nice easy paced half marathon you could probably follow the same rule. On the other hand if you ran a very hard 10K or a race with many hills a few days might be necessary. Distance, speed, effort, and hills are all key determinants here and vary from runner to runner. My hard race pace is an easy run for some of my friends.
The second factor requires you to be very honest with yourself. How is your body feeling? Did you spend a long time training for this race and push yourself pretty hard? Are you feeling sluggish from the actual race as well as training? If you are feeling exhausted after a training cycle it is very important for you to rest your body before starting again. This is the time when your body is most vulnerable to injury. You might be feeling excited by your new PR or angry from a poor performance and want to get back out there. But your body deserves some time to recover and repair before you push yourself again. Tired muscles or achy lactic acid filled legs need some time off.
Some athletes recover faster than others. This might mean that while you need a week to recover after a marathon another athlete can jump back into training a bit more readily. I personally tend to recovery relatively quickly after a race and during my last marathon was able to jump back into light training after two days off. This time around I will need a bit more rest and will have to be patient with my body.
The other important factor that trumps your ability to recover is any injuries that have been sustained during training. If you have had nagging IT band issues that you pushed through during training it would be wise to rest until you have recovered from this injury. I totally understand and am okay with running through most injuries to get you to race day. However, you really shouldn’t start another training cycle until you have dealt with any and all injuries. This includes any nagging aches or pains. Pushing through a minor injury to get to a race is one thing. But continuing to run through that injury will never allow you to fully heal and may cause further or more serious issues. Let your body rest.
Some athletes find that after a race they come back quicker by doing some slow and short recovery runs right away. These slow runs can help your body flush out lactic acid and any stiffness that built up during your race. This is absolutely fine to do as long as you tend to recover relatively quickly, do not have any injuries, and feel healthy. Again, ask yourself if this type of run will help you or make you feel even more exhausted.
The final factor is a big one. Ask yourself how you are feeling mentally. Are you excited to get back out there? Do you feel like you are dragging a bit and need a break from running? I mentioned the other day that I am physically and mentally a bit tired right now. I am actually looking forward to a break after the marathon and some time to take nice autumn walks with my husband where we can talk to each other without squinting through sweat or wiping snot from our faces.
Generally speaking a few days off after a short race and up to a week off for a longer one is a good rule of thumb. Start with that option and then use the factors listed above to determine just how long you should be resting. And don’t forget to enjoy some delicious food and drinks while you are at it!
Speaking of breaks…congrats to Mitch, Madeline, Katie, and SuzLyfe for completing their marathons yesterday. Great work! Enjoy your well deserved rest.